Pac-12 News: Examining the Student Athlete Bill of Rights: Part Two


Jul 26, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of a football helmet with the Pac-12 logo at 2011 Pacific-12 Conference media day at the Fox Studios Lot. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

On Sunday we started breaking down some of the elements of the Student Athlete Bill of Rights, a bill currently working its way through the California House of Assembly. If passed, this bill would require California’s universities that make over $10 million in media revenues (Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA) to abide by the terms of the bill, which includes providing full academic scholarships to athletes should they lose theirs due to injury or any non-disciplinary reason and full payment of insurance copayments for medical procedures, among other things.

Now we are going to look at another element of the bill that could stand to really benefit athletes once their college career is over. It reads as follows:

"“(b) Each athletic program shall conduct a financial and life skills workshop for all of its first-year and third-year student athletes at the beginning of the academic year. This workshop shall include, but not be limited to, information concerning financial aid, debt management, and a recommended budget for full- and partial-scholarship student athletes living on or off campus during the academic year and the summer term based on the current academic year’s cost of attendance. The workshop shall also include information on time management skills necessary for success as a student athlete, and academic resources available on campus.”"

In short, the four California Pac-12 schools would have to provide financial and life-skills education to its athletes, every first and third year.

There are so many reasons why this would be a good idea, I literally don’t know where to begin.

If there is one thing we know and have seen time and time again, it’s that some athletes are incredibly unprepared for the fame and fortune they fall into after spending a few years in college. We see them make seemingly endless millions of dollars only to have squandered them in a short period of time. What could easily last a lifetime and then some for the average person is blown through in a few years, leaving us all to wonder how one could possibly go broke after making millions of dollars a year?

Well, if one is never taught the value of money, it can only be expected that one would not regard money wisely. Such has been the case for many an athlete. And honestly, who can blame them? Many of the biggest names in sports come from backgrounds where they were constantly in a state of wanting but never having enough. They never knew what it was like to just be able to go into a store and by everything they needed as well as things they wanted. It’s only natural that once they come into a fortune, they would want to spend. Maybe it’s buying mommy and daddy a new house. Maybe it’s taking care of all of those who helped them get to the pros. Or maybe it’s buying themselves a new house, a new car, and a new wardrobe because dang it! They worked hard and they deserve it.

And that would be all find and dandy if they knew how to spend today while thinking about tomorrow. Since that very often is not the case, obviously something needs to change at the collegiate end to see a different outcome on the professional one.Queue the Student Athlete Bill of Rights.

If this were to pass, universities would have to take a more proactive approach in preparing their athletes for the financial aspect of their careers. They would have to invest some of those millions that said athletes make for the schools back into their futures as a stable adult, something that we all know is just the first priority for NCAA athletics.Oh wait.

Marc Isenberg, author of Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes, knows a thing or two about how the NCAA doesn’t really have the athletes’ best interests at heart. He has been a guest speaker at USC, in professor Jeff Fellenzer’s Sports Media & Today’s Society class, talking about some of the issues that athletes face in the pros that they are unprepared for. As a result, he thinks the Student Athlete Bill of Rights is a good move by the state. “We need to go beyond the ‘thou shalt not’,” Isenberg says. “The NCAA’s idea of ‘life skills’ is scaring them straight. ‘Agents are bad, stay away from them, guard your eligibility.’ And it really doesn’t prepare them to really understand how their world works.”

If universities had to provide workshops about how to navigate their world though, Isenberg thinks it could absolutely benefit the athletes going forward, specifically in regards to their financial stability. “This would help them learn about savings and interest and compound interest, and they would be more likely to be prepared for their life as a pro athlete. And if they don’t go pro, they are still learning about the real world and how to conduct business as an adult,” Isenberg said.

It’s hard to argue against that.

However, Isenberg cautions from being overly optimistic about the implementation of the proposed bill. “The bottom line is it’s the culture of the athletic director. If they are in favor of preparing athletes for their life beyond college, then this could work.”The problem is though, that not every coach or AD has that in mind. What we have is a system run by coaches that Isenberg calls “myopic” in their thinking. They don’t want athletes dividing themselves between winning now and preparing for the future. “The mentality we have to break through is it’s ok to prepare for the future,” Isenberg said.

With the workshops proposed by the bill, we could start to see this change. On the other hand, it’s not as simple as just creating a class and all the problems are fixed. Like the old adage says, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Universities can put all the right tools in place for athletes to get educated—and they absolutely should—but that doesn’t mean the athletes will capitalize on and use them. “We need to instill athletes to want to do better,” Isenberg says.

The way things are now athletes have no real reason to think about the future beyond which team will draft them. Sure, they have some notion in the back of their minds that a pro career might not happen, or if it does it may not be for long, but the way we coddle and dote after athletes also tells them that as long as they don’t get into legal trouble we will continue making them comfortable. As a society, we need to start requiring athletes to be accountable for their future, and at the very least that should start at the collegiate level, where they have unlimited access to the tools to enrich themselves.

But once an athlete is convinced to take an interest in his future, what is the most effective way to educate him about something he might be completely unprepared for? Isenberg, who has written a book of the same subject, has a few ideas. He says it starts with having sound principles that can be communicated simply, with an emphasis on making the connection between why it is important to understand the rules and to follow them. Once that is ingrained, it is important to instill in them that no matter what, protecting their eligibility is paramount. From there, it’s a matter of teaching the athletes how to read people to gauge true intentions. Beyond that it’s really a matter of common sense—and you can’t teach that—but if the foundation is there to plan for one’s best interest in the future, not just right here in the now, then we could have some expectation of hope going forward.

Too many athletes have been scammed by people that they knew because they didn’t have the skill set to manage their own finances. Universities should be required to—as much as their funds and abilities will allow—give athletes the basic skills necessary so that when pushed into the professional pool to sink or swim, they can at the very least float.

Tomorrow, we will have our third and final installation of our breakdown of the Student Athlete Bill of Rights, which focuses on the potential new rules regarding athlete transfers.